Jammu: Jammu and Kashmir Bank, a leading financial and banking institution, which had till now managed to remain unaffected by the divisive political discourse in the state, suddenly finds itself in the thick of things.
Former J&K finance minister Haseeb A Drabu, who is also former Chairman of J&K Bank, recently wrote, “The most dangerous aspect of the current episode is that for the first time J&K Bank has been drawn into the vortex of “Jammu versus Kashmir” and “Hindu versus Muslim”.
It started with the change of guard at J&K Bank. The sacking of the bank’s Chairman Parvez Ahmed and appointment of R K Chibber as interim Chairman- cum-Managing Director was the first step.
The reason behind Ahmed’s removal was attributed to ‘grave allegations’ about governance of the bank. Soon after his removal, Anti-Corruption Bureau sleuths raided the corporate headquarters of J&K Bank in Srinagar, including the office of the sacked chairman. The sleuths were said to be “looking for the records of nearly 1,200 appointments allegedly made at the behest of political masters of the previous PDP-BJP government in the state and during Ahmed’s tenure.”
Ahmed was appointed as chairman by the People’s Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party government in October 2016. He was due to complete his term in the next five months but was sacked on June 8, 2019. The way Ahmed was removed was criticised by most regional political parties in Kashmir.
In his article in newspaper Greater Kashmir, Drabu wrote, “Sacking is no solution. Disgracing may be a deterrent, it is not a drug for the malaise… Instead, the state government behaves like a “feudal” owner, acts as a “family” promoter, and functions akin to a “benami” shareholder! It is also an “un-informed “customer and “desperate” borrower.”
The intention behind the move was said to be the first step behind the long- term measures to “improve” the functioning of the bank. Ahmed was seen to be allegedly involved in corruption, nepotism and favouritism.
“Keeping in view the concerns expressed in various quarters regarding the governance and functioning of Jammu and Kashmir Bank, the government has decided to take long term measures to improve the functioning of the bank, so that it becomes a shining example of a well-managed government-owned bank,” an official spokesman said.
If government sources are to be believed, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has uncovered “diversions of loan worth Rs 1,000 crore.”
The attempt to cleanse the system of irregularities, loot and plunder reached the doors of Deputy Mayor, Sheikh Imran. The income tax department conducted raids at 10 premises in Kashmir Valley, promoted by the Deputy Mayor. Tax sleuths raided eight premises in Srinagar and one each in Delhi and Bengaluru of the Kehwah group, promoted by Sheikh Imran.
As per officials, the IT raids are linked to the recent unearthing of irregularities by ACB in J&K Bank. "None of the members of the group is regular in filing their IT returns. As a one-time settlement, the group has got their loans of Rs 170 crore with J&K Bank restructured for a sum of Rs 77 crore, out of which, payment of only Rs 50.34 crore to the J&K Bank has been made so far and balance of Rs 27.66 crore is yet to be paid," CBDT spokesperson Surabhi Ahluwalia said in a statement. CBDT is the administrative authority for the IT department.
During the searches, it was found that “one-time settlement of the loan from J&K Bank has been done through the active ‘connivance’ of a senior J&K Bank officer.”
As per sources, “the Kehwah group, with Imran as its chairman, is also facing default proceedings after 23 of its accounts with the J&K Bank were declared non-performing assets for dues of over about Rs 120 crore.”
During the search, incriminating evidence was also found relating to sale of undisclosed property amounting to Rs 22 crore, agreement to sell transport business for Rs 9.10 crore and undisclosed profit of Rs 15-20 crore on account of sale of a cold storage plant at Lassipora.
A Muslim Bank?
The removal of Ahmed and appointment of a non-Muslim chairman has triggered speculation in the entire the state. With the state under President’s Rule and no popular government in place, the moves are seen as motivated by the BJP-led Central government. Residents of the state view the move as an attempt to hollow out the financial institution as also create a wedge between Jammu and Kashmir.
Discussion and debate on the bank and the recent developments have reached the social media
Ashish Kohli, a Jammu-based journalist, tweeted, “Finally Bank PO Aspirants of J&K won. Parvez Ahmad removed and R.K.Chibber New Chairman of J&K Bank. Jammu Ka Chairman.”
Former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah in his tweet wrote, “Any steps taken to improve the functioning of J&K bank will be welcomed but the administration of the day must guard against playing politics with the bank. It’s called J AND K Bank for a reason. It’s not meant to be a trophy for regionalist politics.”
However, Jammu has always remained dominant in J&K’s state of affairs. Since 1938, the J&K Bank has seen 28 chairmen, 14 from Jammu and 13 from the valley. Drabu writes, “At present, the top management of the bank comprises twelve people; seven out of them are from Jammu; five from Kashmir and one from Ladakh. On the governance side, there is just one representative from the valley and four from Jammu and another four are professionals from rest of the country.”
He further writes, “To counter the incendiary slander that J&K Bank had become a Muslim bank, one has to stoop low and point out that only one board member is a Muslim! And of the 12 top management people only four are Muslims. Pray, don’t fall prey to this propaganda.”
Whatever be the case, the larger political discourse in Jammu and Kashmir seems to be vitiating the functioning of J&K Bank, for now.